46

And the (Berlin) Wall Came Tumbling Down


by Roberto Fox (as told to Frank Thomas Smith)


He had the nerve to telephone and tell me to go to the embassy. Actually he asked, but it amounted to the same thing. It was November 1989 and I was sitting on my third-floor balcony overlooking the public golf course in Belgrano Chico, Buenos Aires on a lovely afternoon. I don't play golf. Call it ironic if you like, for any local golfer worth his putter would have given his eyeteeth to live here. I was trying to work on my new children's book and a brilliant idea had just penetrated my writer's block when the phone rang inside. I jumped and almost knocked over my portable typewriter but the only damage was a long line of zzzzzs when my finger slipped down from the a-key and stuck on z as I saved the machine. It was the time of the month when my ex-wife often called from Germany to complain that she hadn't received her alimony. It was hard to convince her that it was the fault of the Argentine bureaucratic banking system, that it would arrive, although late. I let it ring for the programed seven times until the answering machine took over. I fully expected to hear her exasperated whine, but nothing happened. No message, so it wasn't her.

Now what was that idea? Gone. I cursed and walked back and forth on the balcony, which was only five paces, but that didn't help, so I went inside to the kitchen for a beer, which was likely to help even less, but I was thirsty. Spring had been short that year and it was already summery enough to warrant a cold beer. I poured so it had a decent head of foam, which isn't easy with the homegrown brew, not like the German stuff, and drank it down before the foam dissolved completely. Then I stretched out on the couch thinking that a short siesta might bring back the idea.

I had just dozed off when the damned phone rang again. I let it ring six times then growled Hola into it, just to let whoever it was know that yes, I was not in the mood for phone calls.

Señor Roberto Fox?” a secretarial voice asked. When I concurred: “Un momento, por favor.”

Hello, Roberto,” a man said cheerfully in English. “This is Bob Knowles from the U.S. embassy.”

Do I know a Bob Knowles, I asked myself. After receiving a negative reply or a can't recall, I asked him: “Do I know you?”

Not yet,” he replied, “but– ”

Then why are you calling me Roberto? If I don't know you, you don't know me.”

That must have given him pause. Those arrogant twerps from the embassy think that a call from them should make any American expat roll over like a labrador and pant with joy.

Finally he recovered and said, “Sorry Mr Fox, I thought compatriots and all, you know.”

What can I do for you Mr. Knowles?” I forbore from telling him to cut the bullshit.

He got the message, but not all of it. “We'd like to talk to you about an urgent matter,” he said. “Can you come to the embassy?” I thought he might be some vice-consul doing a favor for a colleague in Germany on behalf of my ex-wife. She had a lot of contacts being the daughter of a former ambassador.

Okay, talk.”

What? Oh, no, not on the telephone.” He lowered his voice dramatically. “It's quite confidential, in fact.” Well, that took care of the ex-wife option. They wouldn't go to that extreme. But I didn't have a clue.

Do you have my address?” I asked.

Uh, yes, as a matter of fact I do. La Pampa 1290, apartment 3C”

So make an appointment.”

Silence.

Are you in your office now?” I asked.

Yes, I am,” he said enthusiastically, probably thinking I'd changed my mind.

I'll call you back,” I said. He screamed “Wait!” But I hung up. I checked the Embassy's number in my address book. The usual machine answered giving a long series of numbered options – about visas, passports, holidays, opening times, etc. Only the last one offered a chance to speak to a human being: 7 – “emergencies involving a U.S. citizen”. After about twenty rings a voice answered: “What's your emergency, please?”

With whom am I speaking?” That always puts bureaucrats who don't identify themselves on the defensive. There was a longish pause, then she said, “Miss Coughlan. What's you emergency, sir?”

My name is Roberto Fox,” I said, “and I need to talk to Bob Knowles – urgently.”

Just a moment, Please.” Then: “We don't have anyone by that name here. Sorry.”

But he just called me from the embassy.”

Just a moment please.” I could hear voices, including hers, in the background, but couldn't make out what they were saying, except someone saying “Smith”. She came back on the line. “Is that with a K?”

I suppose so, as in knight of the round table.”

Just a moment please.”

That's three moments and I'm still waiting.” But she was already gone.

Hello?” It was Bob. I had him figured now: CIA using a cover name for no discernible reason.

Hello, Bob. Roberto Fox here.”

Good, Mr Fox (with emphasis on the Mr.) Now you know I'm for real.”

Not quite. What's your real name – Smith or Jones?”

He didn't answer. “Okay, if you want to talk to me you know where I live,” I said.”

When would be convenient for you?” I didn't hear him sigh, but I could feel it.

Now. If not, next week.” It occurred to me that some unknown auntie might have left me a lot of money. Extremely unlikely though, because I knew all my aunts, and they were all poor.

How about five-ish?”

Come now, Bob, or forever hold your peace.”

Okay, is half an hour within the limits of your patience?”

I'd made him eat humble pie, so now he's getting ornery. “Now you're talkin'.”


Coffee or beer?” I asked him once he was seated comfortably on the balcony. He looked at me as though I might poison his drink, whatever it was. He was a chubby kid with rosy cheeks in a gray suit and a rosy tie.

Beer,” he chose. “By the way, my name is Jim Fullbright.”

No wonder you use a cover name. Any relation to the senator?

Second cousin.”

I won't hold it against you. Now what's this all about? By the way, you can call me Roberto now that we know each other,” I conceded while pouring a beer sans foam.” I even smiled.

He probably felt like telling me to fuck off, but only shrugged and asked me if I knew Jesús Barragán.

That surprised me and I squinted as though trying to remember. Then I said, “I used to know a guy with that name, yeah. Why do you ask?”

Would you recognize him?” which was not exactly an answer.

I guess so, though I haven't seen him in almost ten years.”

Seven,” Bob said, and smiled.

Okay, seven,” I agreed, resolving not to give any more information without getting some in return.

Were you friendly?” he asked.

No, now tell me what you want or the interview is over.”

We want you to go to Berlin, Roberto, and speak to our Chief of Station there.”

More intrigued than surprised, I almost laughed. My daughter lives in Berlin and I was thinking of visiting her. But since I quit IATA rather than wait for retirement I wasn't eligible for free or reduced fare tickets. Also I was too old – or spoiled – to go to the airport and hang around as a standby for economy class when most flights were full anyway. I'd been wondering if I could afford the trip if I had to pay – something I wasn't used to doing. Now this guy was offering to get me there for nothing.

Berlin?” I said with a phony frown. “Why?”

I really don't know, Roberto, but there's one more thing I have to ask you.” He sounded apologetic.

Shoot.”

You knew Barragán in connection with your work for the International Air Transport Association, right?”

I nodded.

What's your opinion of him?

Conman.” He nodded, took a small notebook from his pocket and wrote the word.

It's one word,” I said. “Can't you remember it? Now tell me why I should go to Berlin.”

The Chief of Station there will tell you,” Bob said, shaking his head. “I can't tell you what I don't know. What do you say?

First Class,” is what I said.

Business,” he smiled. “No one goes First anymore.”

Actually, I didn't expect anything else, but I looked disappointed.

And per diem of course,” he said.

How much?”

$250 a day.”

Plus my fee of one thousand dollars a day, of course.”

He shrugged. “I'll have to check on that,” he said, “but I suppose it can be arranged.”

Shit, I should have asked for more.


Mike Huggin's office could easily have competed with the president of Argentina's – and win. The location wasn't bad either, on an upscale residential street in Grunewald. As the CIA's Berlin Chief of Station he probably considered himself more important than Argentina's president. I had been brought directly from the airport in a Mercedes and was still bleary-brained from the long flight, or I might not have accepted the “op”, as he called ir. Huggin was about sixty then, tall, thin, pale and dapper, with a Clark Gable mustache. He looked to be in good shape for his age and was certainly a handsome man. He possessed a charming smile over capped teeth and a crunching handshake. He abandoned his desk to greet me and we sat in leather upholstered easy chairs.

You look like you could use a cup of good coffee, Robert,” he said. I agreed. His secretary, an efficient looking middle aged ex-beauty, was still standing in the doorway. He nodded to her and she disappeared, to return five minutes later – during which we discussed the weather in Buenos Aires and Berlin – with a tray of steaming coffee, milk and fresh croissants. My mouth watered. He poured as the secretary left and closed the door behind her.

I understand you know Jesus Barragán, Robert – or should I say Roberto?” He pronounced Jesus as in English instead of the Spanish “hey-soos”

Take you pick,”I answered.

Which is it – I mean officially?”

My Argentine passport says Roberto, my American one Robert. So they're both official.”

You were born in Argentina, I understand.”

That's right.” I decided to make him fish for the information, most of which he certainly had anyway.

And when did you become an American citizen?”

At birth. My father was the manager of PanAm and he registered me at the consulate.”

And your mother?”

German born, naturalized U.S. citizen.”

So that's how you learned German?” I nodded.

Right.” He walked to his desk, picked up a folder and opened it when he returned to his seat.

You know all this anyway, Mike,” I said. I recognized his technique, which I'd used myself when interrogating (“interviewing” we called it) defectors to Berlin's American zone: People like to talk about themselves, so warm them up by asking inconsequential stuff.

He smiled. “Yes, I do. But I don't know when you moved to the States, to New York City.”

I was thirteen.”

You attended City College and were in the R.O.T.C. – but you quit. Why was that, Robert?”

Why did I quit the R.O.T.C.? Because I read From Here to Eternity and decided I didn't want to be an officer.”

He smiled. “Ever regret it?”

Never,” I said without smiling. “My military experience confirmed a really good decision.” He had probably been an officer in the military at one time, I figured.

Okay.” He raised an eyebrow, which probably meant something to his underlings, but not to me.

During your military service you were here in Military Intelligence, 7982nd European Liaison Group.” He closed the file. “What exactly did you do in M.I., Robert?

I sighed, visibly. “Picked up the mail, sent sources – that's what we called our bumbling spies then – into to East Zone, and interrogated defectors.”

What were the sources looking for?”

Numbers.”

Numbers?”

Of Soviet vehicles, so we could decide whether they were where they were supposed to be.”

Uh huh, any luck?”

We were never invaded.”

Thanks to you.”

No thanks to me; it was a waste of time.”

Okay.” He didn't want to hear why it was a waste of time. “What kind of people did you interrogate?”

That was in Frankfurt...before Berlin. Defectors from the GDR Volksarmee.”

Uh huh. Any Russians?”

I never heard of a Russian defector – military that is. All we did was soldiers. You people got the Russians, if there were any. That was before the Wall, by the way, it must be harder now.”

Quite.” He came back to the point. “How well do you know Barragán?”

Not well at all. Met him a few times, that's all.”

Elucidate, please.”

What's he got to do with Berlin and you guys?” I asked.

Later. Now please tell me what you know of him.”

I was Director of the Fraud Prevention Division of IATA and he was our best customer.”

Customer?”

Perpetrator. He kept the Division very busy. His specialty was sending false PTAs – Prepaid Ticket Advises – to airlines.” He frowned and I knew I'd have to explain. “You paid Lufthansa here for my ticket but it was issued in Buenos Aires. Lufthansa Berlin sent a PTA by telex to their office in Buenos Aires instructing them to issue the ticket to me.” He nodded. “Barragán hacked into the airlines' telex system and sent messages from anywhere in the world, mostly using General Sales Agents' passwords (we never found out how he got them). So he could have sent a telex to Lufthansa Buenos Aires making it look like it came from Lufthansa Berlin, but he really sent it from a public telex/phone booth in Buenos Aires. The Buenos Aires office would then issue the ticket, assuming that payment had been made in Berlin. The passenger would have paid Barragán, or more likely one his agents, for the ticket at a huge discount. The airline never got a penny.

And the law?” Huggen asked.

There was a jurisdiction problem. In this example payment was made in Germany, ticket issued in Argentina, passenger often innocent. And there was no real proof that Barragán was the perp.”

How did you know then?”

I knew, trust me.” I was getting tired of doing all the talking.

I intend to, Robert.” He took a pack of Gauloises from his breast pocket and offered me one. I'd recently given up smoking for the umpteenth time, but felt that the situation justified a future definitive renunciation. He lit me with a gold-plated zippo.

Good,” I said. “Then how about telling me what I'm doing here.”

You'll be visiting your daughter...later,” he said, just to show that he knew everything. “First though, you'll be visiting Mr. Barragán.”

He's in Berlin?”

Yes. East Berlin.”

I coughed on my first drag, took a sip of the excellent coffee to give that time to sink in, stretched and scratched my ear. “You don't seriously expect me to go to East Berlin, now do you, Mike?”

He smiled. “Actually yes, I mean what's the problem?”

My neurons had been working overtime: “At that price?”

Oh, I see.” He looked disappointed. I didn't care much if the op ended right then; after all, I got a free trip to Berlin. But it wasn't to be.

Mike Huggin walked to the door, but not to kick me out. He opened it and said, “Two sherries, please, Heather.” He returned to his seat and motioned me, avuncularly, to sit again. Heather came in with a bottle of Spanish sherry and the appropriate cello-shaped glasses. After pouring, Huggin held up his glass: “Prost!”

I was in M.I. here for gods' sake, Mike. They'll have my name somewhere.”

Oh we've thought of that, Robert,” he said crossing his long legs and leaning back. “You have your Argentinean passport with you, I assume.” I nodded. “Your jerk in Buenos Aires told me to take it.”

Well then, you are an Argentinean named Roberto Fox, not an American named Robert. No problema.” I shrugged. He was right...probably.

We'll talk about finances later,” he said. “Now let me tell you what your pal Jesus has to do with it.”

Jesús,” I corrected.

Whatever. He's got a travel agency in East Berlin– ”

I had to laugh. “Jesús Barragán has a travel agency in East Berlin? I don't believe it.”

Nevertheless, it's quite true,” Huggin said, sipping his sherry. “You and Je-soos have something in common, you know. His mother is also German. Her name is Schmidt and she lives with him. He speaks fluent German and has East German citizenship, by the way.” He raised both bushy eyebrows and stared at me as though that revelation should have knocked me over.

Go on,” is all I said.

Do you think he's a communist?”

I smiled. “If he is, there's money in it somehow.”

That's likely, it's the only travel agency in the GDR – except for the official one, which only handles incoming tourists.”

East Germans aren't very big at traveling, though, they can't even come here,” I reminded him.

True, but government officials, athletes, orchestras – they all travel.”

And they buy their tickets from....what's the agency's name?

UnserFlug International.”

Ugh.”

Quite.”

But it's still not enough to interest Barragán; there's gotta be a con somewhere.”

Possibly, but what we're interested in are the travel itineraries of government officials … including KGB people of course.”

It probably has to do with the exchange rate,” I said.

What?”

Barragán's scam. What the Ostmark worth now?”

You get one Westmark for five Eastmarks at the bank here.”

That's it then. He collects fares in Eastmarks, exchanges them over there at one to one, then...well, I have to think about exactly how it works.”

That's interesting,” Huggin said. “It's something you could hold over him.”

Wait a minute, Mike. I was only thinking. I didn't say I was going there, because I'm not. I'm through with cloak and dagger stuff.”

You said, 'at that price?' That price was the one agreed on in Buenos Aires before you knew what the op involved. We are of course willing to pay more.”

Such as?”

Let me tell you how simple it is. Okay?”

I didn't answer.

There's a tour bus that goes over three times a week with a Spanish speaking tour guide. By the way, in case you didn't know, you have to buy a minimum of 25 Eastmarks with Westmarks at the border at a 1 to 1 exchange rate. It leaves at three p.m. and stops for a stroll and shopping on Unter den Linden, where, not coincidentally, Jesus has his agency. Nice restaurants there for tourists. But you stroll into the agency.” He smiled his charming phony smile. “Simple, right?”

Then what?”

You ask to speak with Barragán.”

Why should he want to talk to me?”

Old times' sake. Also, you're an IATA official.”

Which I'm not any longer.”

Huggin opened the file again and took out some business cards, which he handed to me. They were just like my old ones, but I was now Director, Fraud Prevention, Europe, based in Geneva. I shook my head.

We cleared it with IATA,” Huggin said. “If anyone asks, they'll say you're one of them.”

What if he's not there?”

He'll be there, we know his working hours – 9 to 3.”

Banking hours there?”

As a matter of fact, yes.”

So I talk to him,” I said. “About what? - which doesn't mean I will, just curious.”

Well, just in case you do, alone and without bugs, which probably means outside. You would tell him that certain friends want the itineraries of his passengers, with all the details, before they travel.”

Uh huh, and what's in it for him?”

It will be well worth his while, you can tell him that.”

How much?”

He should ask you how much he wants.”

We sat there for a while looking into space. “Is that bottle empty?” I finally asked.

Oh, excuse me. Please help yourself.” I did.

If I decided to do this, I'd want 10,000 dollars in addition to the one thousand plus 250 per diem,” I said, and sat back hoping he'd be shocked and say no.

But he only poured himself another sherry. “I think that can be arranged, Robert, assuming Jesus accepts the deal.”

I poured my third. “No deal, Mike. This is the GDR you want me to go into, where they send spies to Siberia before or after the firing squad. The money has to be up front, like today. I'll open an account in the Deutsche Bank, closest branch, and you deposit the money. If not, I'm outa here and thanks for the trip.”

He shook his head and sighed like he'd just received bad news, but said, “Okay, Robert. Open the account and give me the number, here's my private phone”...he handed me a card... “just the number when you call, it's an answering machine.”

Wow! That was too easy, but who was I to complain. “So how do you intend to proceed?” Huggin asked me.

I starred at him in a way that would have been a growl had it been vocal, meaning why hadn't he already figured that out. But one thing had already occurred to me. “Is that travel agency IATA approved?” He didn't know and asked if it was important. When I said yes, it could be, he said he'd find out.

Let me use your phone,” I said. I called Fats Slattery at the IATA Agency Division in Geneva. Fats, a fat Brit, had been there forever loaded down with boredom, so he seemed genuinely please to get my call. After the usual small talk, which I had to cut off because Fats could go on forever, I said, “You got an approved agent called UnserFlug International in Germany? It's in the East, Fats, the German Democratic Republic, not the Federal Republic, just so you go to the right place.”

He came back on the line in two minutes.

Got him, Bobby.” (He's the only one except my mother I let call me Bobby.) “It's the only approved agency in the whole bloody country.”

Who's the owner?”

Annaliese Schmidt, it says here.” I thanked him and promised to stop by next time I was in Geneva.

Probably his mother,” I told Huggin,

The tour bus picked me up at my hotel – on time of course, we were in Germany. I had a seat number on my ticket, which a plump blond stewardess directed me to. Then occurred one of those events frequent travelers dream about. Seated in the window seat was a beautiful, leggy dark-haired beauty. After I sat down next to her she smiled and said hola. The other passengers were also chatting in Spanish, Iberian and Latin American. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, high cheekbones, slightly up-slanted eyes. She wore a miniskirt, but because of the cold had black tights under it and wore high, black leather boots. As the bus rolled towards Checkpoint Charlie we conversed about the weather, our home countries – she was from Colombia, she said – until she handed me her IATA card: Marta Schreyer, Senior Fraud Prevention Officer. I nodded to myself and sent her a raised CIA eyebrow. So my good luck wasn't so good after all.

So Mike Huggin wants to keep an eye on me,” I said in English.

Let's just say to assist to you in any way possible.”

In case of need?”

Of course. What else?”

I was pissed off at first, but then thought of the $11,250 in the bank and calmed down. But why don't those people at least tell you what they have up their sleeve? I thought. Would I have accepted an “assistant”? Probably, but I would have argued against it. Why two people? Could look suspicious, especially to a suspicious bastard like Jesús Barragán.

I think we should speak Spanish,” she whispered, “so as not to attract attention.”

She was right, but I had to stay offended for a while. “Is that what you guys mean by assistance?” She didn't answer; offended, I guess.

We drove around East Berlin for a couple of hours. The tour leader rendered an uncool mix of sightseeing lore and heavy Marxist propaganda. We stopped on Unter den Linden, a huge avenue, once the pride of Berlin, and the passengers poured out, glad for some air, movement and food. I was hungry as well, but had other things to do. Marta Schreyer, with whom I finally decided to be friendly –she was, after all, quite a dish– and I strolled along the avenue looking at buildings and the few shops, until we came to UnserFlug Interantional. It was an unimposing place with a few dusty posters in the window of Havana, Moscow and Prague. You couldn't see inside. I opened the door and walked in first, which is how it's done in Germany. They say it's to protect the lady (during the middle ages) from rowdiness inside. Not a bad idea nowadays either.

Two guys who looked more like bouncers than sales people looked up from what were probably western girlie magazines, or maybe comics, and looked at us suspiciously. One of them said in a squeaky voice, “Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” Which isn't exactly “whadaya want?” but it sounded like it coming from him. I decided to speak English to stay in character: “Two tickets to Madrid.”

He shrugged and looked at the other guy, who said, “Cheaper on da udder side.” What a sales pitch!

How much?”

And more quicker.”

How much?”

He sighed and pretended to check an air fares manual, then quoted a fare that could have got me to Hong Kong First Class. “I'd like to see the manager,” I said, and handed him the IATA card Huggin had supplied. “Me too,” Marta said, and added her card to the mini-pile on the goon's desk. He studied them, looked from her to me and back again, and looked at his partner – who shrugged. He went with the cards through a door at the other end of the room marked “Kein Eintritt” (no entrance). A minute later who came out with a big smile on his handsome face but my old buddy Jesús Barragán. It had been seven years, but he didn't look much different, a few more pounds maybe, a bit less hair. He was dapper as usual, in fact he reminded me a little of Mike Huggin. Later I meditated on what he could have become if his karma had him born in Chicago instead of Santiago del Estero: He might have been the CIA Station Chief instead of Huggin.

Roberto,” he gushed, with a big grin, as though he were glad to see me – which he definitely wasn't. “Still with IATA I see. What a drag, ha ha.” I stood and shook his hand, narrowly escaping an embrace. “And Señora Schreyer, or is it señorita?”

Either one will do.” she answered deadpan.

But not Marta? What a pity.”

I assume this is an official visit?” he said in German, obviously for the benefit of the goons.

I nodded. “I want to ask you why you sell IATA airlines' tickets at excessive prices – far above the published fares.” He couldn't help smiling and I was barely able to keep from laughing. You see, at that time IATA was concerned with discounted fares; overpricing was unheard of.

Well, I'm sure I can explain that,” he said with a straight face. “Would you like to come into my office or do you prefer a delicious East German beer somewhere near”? I agreed with a nod that it would be better to talk somewhere without bugs – electronic ones, that is.

Wunderbar! Come with me then. He opened the door. “After you, meine Liebe,” he said to Marta and visually undressed her as she passed him. To me he raised an eyebrow (like Huggin) and smirked. He was cool, no doubt about it.

We went to a gemütlicher pub around the corner, where Barragán was an honored guest. He whispered something to the owner and we were led up a flight of stairs into a private alcove.

Drei Löwenbräu, Heinz, bitte,” Barragán told the owner after we were seated at a round table. I didn't mention that Löwenbräu came from Munich. He knew that.

How long have you been in Geneva, Roberto?” he asked.

Not long. How long have you been in East Berlin?

Not long.” Even Marta had to smile at that. We engaged in such nonsense smalltalk until the beer arrived along with a plate of pickled herring.

What can I do for you, my friend, or I should say my friends?" he said when the waiter left, smiling at Marta.

We were wondering how your business is doing”, I said. “I mean East Germans aren't exactly word travelers.”

He lifted his glass: “Prost!” We all clicked glasses and sucked the beer from under the foam, leaving white mustaches. “I do all right,” he said.

You must have government business then.”

He smile faded. “Could be.”

In which case you must be swimming in information.”

Should I? What kind of information?”

Itineraries, travel dates. You know, the kind of information travel agents always have.”

And what of it?” He speared a herring and ate it. “Hmm, delicious. Too bad they don't make empanadas in Argentina with herring.” He never took his eyes off me, so he was interested.

There could be people willing to pay for such information.”

"Really? You, for instance?”

No, not me.”

Oh, you're an intermediary then.” Touché. In Argentina I used intermediaries to buy test tickets from him. I didn't answer.

Who might these people be that you're an intermediary for, Roberto?”

No one you know.”

Long pause, then: “If someone in a position similar to mine wanted to sell information he'd certainly want to know how much the buyer is willing to pay...don't you think?”

Another pause, then I said, “Such a buyer would probably want to know how much the seller wanted...don't you think?”

Yes, that's a reasonable attitude.” He glanced quickly at Marta, probably wondering why she was there. “I would say that such a person, the seller I mean, would want 25,000 U.S. dollars up front and an amount to be agreed upon thereafter for each piece of information...er...gleaned.”

And turned over to the buyer.”

Of course.”

Marta kicked me under the table. I stood up and walked in a circle with my brow knit, trying to look pensive. When I turned back to the table I glanced at Marta, who nodded, just perceptibly.

I sat down again and looked at Barragán. “Bueno, Jesús – deal.”

He took a paper napkin from its holder and wrote a series of letters on it. “It's a simple letter-number code for an account in UBS Geneva.” He handed it to me. “The kind of thing such a seller would do. Then he would say: 'once the money is in the account, the game starts.'”

We heard a commotion downstairs. People shouting. “We should be going,” Marta said, “or we'll miss the bus.”

But you haven't finished your beer,” Barragán said. Then, “What bus?”

The wall is down!” someone shouted as we were going single file down the stairs.” “Die Mauer, die Mauer!” they were all shouting. Barragán grabbed a skinny guy by the coat as he was about to run out into the street. “What are you yelling about? What wall is down?”

The Wall, idiot. It's not really down, but anyone can go across now, they announced it on the radio and the telly.”

Who announced it?”

The government, that's who,” the guy said and pushed away. “I'm goin' west, Mensch!” And he did.

We went outside, where it was already dark. People were running down Unter den Linden screaming To the wall! We walked to the corner and I saw our bus still there. I took Marta's arm, but she didn't move. “No,” she said, “Let's walk.”

Walk? Why, it's a madhouse?”

Trust me,” she said. “Walk.” She had emerged as sort of the boss of that op, so I walked.

Wait a minute, Roberto,” Barragán said, coming up behind us. “What bus?”

I didn't know what to say, but Marta did. “We came in a tourist bus, Sr. Barragán. It's right over there.”

He looked nervous. “Well look, if you're not going back on it, how about giving me your seats.”

You're going over?” I said, surprised.

Why not? Do you realize what this means?” I shook my head. “Never mind, I just have to pick up someone in my apartment over the office. Do you think they'll wait?”

Here's my ticket,” Marta said, smiling. “Sr. Fox, why don't you give him yours, we won't be using them.”

I was totally dumbfounded by then, but I handed over my ticket. “Seats 6A and 6B,” Marta said. “Have a good trip, Sr. Barragán.”

Clutching the tickets, Jesús Barragán ran to the bus and we saw him talking to the driver, doubtless asking him to wait a few minutes. Marta pulled me away in the direction the crowd was going.

What was that all about?” I asked her.

I'll tell you later, come on.”

We ran and ran, past Checkpoint Charlie where a huge mob was pushing to get through. Finally we came to a spot where people were actually climbing over the wall. A cadre of young people were standing on top helping others up from an array of wooden boxes of all sizes that had been placed inside to step on. Marta jumped onto a box and was immediately hauled up. “Come!” she called back to me. “Is that your boyfriend?” one of the young men asked. “And I wanted to keep you for myself. Oh well, come on, lucky one.” I got on the box, reached up and was on the top of the Berlin Wall facing a huge cheering crowd on the other side. Marta was already there beckoning me to jump. I saw others jumping and they were caught by the people on the ground and doused with beer or just kissed. I jumped, was caught and kissed...by Marta. Everyone cheered.

We found a place to sit in a Gasthaus a few blocks away. We were the only customers because everyone was out in the street. I was exhausted. Marta coaxed the waiter inside to give us some schnaps.

Barragán asked if I realized what this means,” I said to Marta. “Perhaps you can enlighten me.”

She downed her schnaps and took my shaking hand in hers, but didn't answer. She was looking at me with beautiful dark eyes. “You know, Marta,” I finally said, melting, “I didn't know the CIA employed such beautiful spies.”

They don't.”

I thought she was being modest. ”I want to go back to Argentina with you, Roberto.”

Back?” I said stupidly. “Are you from Argentina?”

Originally yes, but I have dual...no, triple citizenship.”

Let me guess: Argentine, U.S. and...German?”

That's right, and I think it's time to go home.”

But why, you have a good job here which you seem to be good at.” I grinned my charming, goofy grin. “Don't tell me you're in love with me?”

Not quite. But I can feel it coming on.”

Like the flu?”

Worse.”

Okay, why else?”

All this , my innocent darling, means that the GDR is finished.”

Finished?”

Without the Wall and the Soviets they can't exist,” she said. “Don't you follow the news – Gorbachev, perestroika, all that?”

Well yes, you may be right, but that doesn't explain why you...”

She sighed as if dealing with a retarded gringo. “I said the CIA doesn't usually employ such beautiful spies, meaning me.”

The waiter had left the schnaps bottle on the bar. I walked over and refilled my glass. I slumped down in my chair and downed the burning liquid. “Mein Gott – you're Stasi?”

Ex-Stasi, I just quit.”

But how...”

We knew all about you, what you were going to try at UnserFlug.”

You knew? Then there must be a mole in the CIA Berlin office.

Elementary, my dear Fox.” She pushed a lock of hair from my brow. “Anyway, my boss had the brilliant idea of planting me in the bus, knowing you would think I was CIA.”

Wow! And it worked.”

Yes, we never trusted Barragán. Frankly, he was robbing us blind with the help of some high-up party friends. My boss –ex-boss– is honest, one of the few, and he was out to get him.”

I see. And now?”

Now it's all over, and I am so relieved.”

Why did we have to jump over the Wall instead of just taking the bus back?” It seemed a minor point compared with everything else that was happening, but my legs still ached.

Because that bus, despite everything, will be boarded by Stasi agents – not the Grenzpolizei – and the people in seats 6A and B will be taken off and arrested and 6A – you – would have been arrested as a spy. I of course would have been the witness.”

My mouth hung open. “And Barragán – now?”

She smiled. “He'll have a hard time explaining what he's doing in your seat, but he'll think of something. Of course if the Wall hadn't collapsed, he'd be doing a lot of time in Siberia, or worse.”

Nice,” I said. “And me?”

Oh, you would have been exchanged for someone. They might even have got a Russian for you.”

It's good to feel important.”

Do you want to feel really important?” she asked.

Not really."

Don't tell Mr. Huggin about me. Just say that Barragán agreed, but now the Wall...so you don't know what will happen now.”

Sure. And you want to go to Argentina with me?”

Yes, I really do.”

I admit it was tempting, but that horny I am not. I took the easy way out and took Marta's suggestion not to mention her to Huggin. It would only complicate things. In fact, the Wall coming down was complication enough for him. I did tell him that he had a mole, though. He asked me how I knew. I said, “Trust me,” and left.

I didn't see Marta Hari Schreyer again – until seven years later when she rang my doorbell in Buenos Aires. I was sitting on the balcony overlooking the golf course completing a book for adolescents with subliminal sex and minimal violence, when...But that's another story.


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